Analysis: After 4 full years of ‘Arab Spring’, nothing is blooming

This current phase in Mid-East history is dark, with so much suffering, blood & pain, having many saying the results of the Arab Spring have only been devastating & negative.

By Ksenia Svetlova


Al-Qaida on the Israeli-Syrian border, the fanatics of the Islamic state running their own mini-Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, Libyan weapons streaming into Africa and Middle East, beheadings from Raqqa to Sinai and many, many shattered dreams of a better future – this is the picture of the Middle East four years since the start of the phenomenon known as the Arab Spring.

Tahrir Square demonstration in Cairo, August 2011 ( AFP )

Tahrir Square demonstration in Cairo, August 2011- Photo: AFP

The wave of Arab revolutions began in flames with Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi burning himself to death (on December 17, 2010), and as time goes by the flames rise higher. Many thousands of lives have already been consumed by this mighty fire, and many more will likely be murdered, tortured, raped or exiled. Four years since the eruption of revolutions in the Arab Middle East, Syria, Libya and Yemen are on the verge of disintegration, Egypt is back to square one with its new military pharaoh, and the only country that can boast some success in establishing a democracy is Tunisia. However, even Tunisia is not out of the woods yet. Its economy is experiencing a major crisis and residents of poor areas, such Sidi Bouzid where desperate Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself, continue to suffer.

Is this grim picture what Bouazizi or Egypt’s Khaled Said – another powerful symbol of the Arab spring – dreamt of? Probably not. The vegetable vendor Bouazizi and the blogger and student Said were both struggling with different aspects of the same phenomenon – state repression. Khaled Said was investigating the drug trade in Alexandria and involvement of police officers, Bouazizi just wanted to make a living. They and their peers who went to demonstrate on Habib Bourghiba avenue in Tunis, Tahrir Square in Cairo and Taghir Square in Yemen, were protesting poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities, oppression and dictatorship. But most of all they were protesting the failure of their geriatric regimes to achieve any progress in any sphere – educational, social economic or political. The obvious stagnation of these regimes in Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and other places created dangerous vacuums, that were immediately filled with other wannabes seeking radical change.

The new radicals, disappointed by the unsuccessful revolutions of the 1950s, were Islamists wanting the Sharia to become the ideological basis of their alternative states. None offered real solutions in terms of the economy, society and foreign policy, probably because they never believed they would ever rule. When the unbelievable happened on Tahrir Square in January 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood was at first cautious. I remember seeing many of their activists on Tahrir during the 18 days of the revolution, at first as bystanders looking from the side at the the huge crowds demanding change. Then, when President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down, they gained more confidence, realizing that they were practically the only players on the political field. In a country where civil society organizations were crushed for many years, where the illiteracy is still very high and the religious beliefs powerful, the MB couldn’t fail. Considering the power and influence of the army, the clash between the MB and the army was also predetermined, as these two structures were, and still are highly undemocratic and not inclined to power sharing. As we now know, the strongest party – i.e. the army – won this battle.

The situation in the “Land of Jasmine” – Tunisia, where the middle class is more established, literacy almost complete and the supporters of a secular state more common – is entirely different. Tunisia was always unique in the Middle Eastern scene, and it remains, for now, the sole example of Arab spring success. As for Syria and Libya, the states with the worst form of oppression, and Yemen, with deep poverty and the lowest rate of literacy, all had something in common: an aging president, an autocratic regime and strong Islamist opposition. But four years ago each took different roads. Each revolutionary attempt developed differently, based on conditions on the ground and the level of foreign involvement. Bahrain would not have been able to make it if not for the ground invasion by Saudi troops who supported the King, Syria wouldn’t be drowning in so much blood if both sides- Assad and the rebels – would not have had access to advanced weapons.

Right now, when there is so much suffering, blood and pain, some would say the results of the Arab Spring are devastating and negative. However, critics tend to forget the the popular dissatisfaction with the regimes was huge and that nobody in the ivory towers of the presidential palaces had any idea or plan how to reform their countries and societies. Some politicians could have reacted differently to this revolutionary wave. Barack Obama, for example, could have support Mubarak to the end, but he would not have been able to disperse one million protesters in Tahrir, and many more millions from Alexandria to Aswan. More blood would have been spilled, but the change was unavoidable.

If Moamar Khadafi had not been bombed by a Western coalition, the war between him and the rebels would probably have gone on for many more months, becoming a chronic disease, but it could not have been avoided. The Americans could have acted against the Assad regime, but they would not have been able to prevent the massacre of the Alawites by the Sunnis, and vice versa.

The current phase in Middle Eastern history is dark and bloody, yet inevitable. For it is a natural result of prolonged stagnation and the sweeping of difficult realities under the carpet. Now the carpet is no longer there, and all of the jinns are out, walking free on the streets of Damascus, Sanaa, Benghazi and Cairo.


About the Author:

Ksenia Svetlova

Ksenia Svetlova is an Arab affairs analyst for Israel’s Russian-language Channel 9 and a fellow at “Mitvim”, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.


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